90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
‘Jefferson’s Qu’ran’ And Islam In America

How a founding father, Thomas Jefferson, came to understand Islam.

On President Thomas Jefferson's gravestone in Virginia, his promotion of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom was one of the three things he was most proud of. (Creative Commons)

On President Thomas Jefferson’s gravestone in Virginia, his promotion of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom was one of the three things he was most proud of. (Creative Commons)

Back in the founding days of this nation, ideas were big.  The rights of Man.  Democracy, and citizenship.  And of course, freedom of religion.  But the religious debates were mostly among Protestants.  Catholics and Jews were the outliers.  Muslims?  Well they were beyond the pale.  The Ottoman, the Barbary pirate.  And, lest we forget, the American slave.  But a new book says Thomas Jefferson thought about Islam and could see a day when Muslims would be a part of the fabric of American democracy.  This hour On Point:  Thomas Jefferson, his Koran and Islam in American history.

Guests

Denise Spellberg, professor of history and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Author of “Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam And The Founders.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota’s Fifth District. First Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress. (@KeithEllison)

From The Reading List

San Francisco Chronicle: ‘Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an,’ by Denise Spellberg — “One of the strangest symptoms of our diseased political culture is the stubborn belief of some, despite all the contrary evidence, that President Obama is a Muslim. Slander and calumny are hardly new features of American politics. Usually it takes the form of an accusation that so-and-so is a socialist, or even a ‘commie’ – another fervid charge frequently leveled at our current president. But as it turns out, the accusation that he is a Muslim is a quality that Obama shares with one of his most illustrious predecessors, Thomas Jefferson.”

The Daily Beast: How Islam Shaped the Founders — “Thomas Jefferson, a central figure in Spellberg’s book, had a strong, lifelong commitment to religious liberty. Jefferson rejected toleration, the alternative perspective and one embraced by John Locke and John Adams, as grounded on the idea that a religious majority has a right to impose its will on a religious minority, but chooses to be tolerant for reasons of benevolence. Religious liberty, Jefferson argued, denies the majority any right to coerce a dissenting minority, even one hostile to religion. Jefferson rejected using government power to coerce religious belief and practice because it would create a nation of tyrants and hypocrites, as it is impossible to force someone to believe against the promptings of his conscience.”

New York Times: People Of the Book – “Jefferson, studying law at the College of William and Mary, acquired an English translation of Islam’s sacred text. He never claimed that the Quran shaped his political orientation. Yet Spellberg, an associate professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas at Austin, makes a persuasive case for its centrality. To oversimplify: What began as an academic interest in Islamic law and religion yielded a fascination with Islamic culture, which disposed him to include Muslims in his expansive vision of American citizenship.”

Read An Excerpt Of “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam And The Founders” by Denise Spellberg

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Oct 31, 2014
Nurse Kaci Hickox, right, and her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur are followed by a Maine State Trooper as they ride bikes on a trail near her home in Fort Kent, Maine, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014.  (AP)

Quarantines and Ebola. An exploding rocket. Apple’s CEO comes out. Hawaiian lava flows. Midterms in the home stretch. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Oct 31, 2014
Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) and Sauncho Smilax (Beninico del Toro) share a drink in a scene from the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson film, "Inherent Vice," an adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. (Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment)

From “Interstellar” to “Into the Woods.” The biggest and best movies of the fall and holiday seasons. What to see, what to skip.

RECENT
SHOWS
Oct 31, 2014
Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) and Sauncho Smilax (Beninico del Toro) share a drink in a scene from the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson film, "Inherent Vice," an adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. (Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment)

From “Interstellar” to “Into the Woods.” The biggest and best movies of the fall and holiday seasons. What to see, what to skip.

 
Oct 31, 2014
Nurse Kaci Hickox, right, and her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur are followed by a Maine State Trooper as they ride bikes on a trail near her home in Fort Kent, Maine, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014.  (AP)

Quarantines and Ebola. An exploding rocket. Apple’s CEO comes out. Hawaiian lava flows. Midterms in the home stretch. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
The Explicast, Episode Three: What Is The Dow Jones Industrial Average?
Friday, Oct 31, 2014

We dig in to that all-important, all-confusing daily stock notice: the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

More »
Comment
 
Our Week In The Web: October 31, 2014
Friday, Oct 31, 2014

We tumble for ya, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Tuco the Massachusetts K-9 Unit puppy in training.

More »
1 Comment
 
Awards Season 2014: The Movies Worth Your Time
Friday, Oct 31, 2014

What movies should you watch before 2014 comes to a close? Our critics offer their picks for the movies of the season right here.

More »
Comment